leica m-d, take one

I will never own a digital Leica rangefinder. I have too much going on in my life to justify spending thousands of dollars on a camera body for my hobby. But renting is a different question. I’m on a work trip where photography will play a big part, and decided to rent a digital Leica (and lens) for the sake of giving it a spin.

I haven’t gone on this trip yet, but an afternoon at a Revolutionary War re-enactment in Chester, Virginia gave me a chance to put this camera through the paces. (That said, I shot most of my photos on a Crown Graphic, stay tuned for those pictures.)

 Militia re-ennactors, after performing a firing demonstration.

Militia re-ennactors, after performing a firing demonstration.

Now, even if I’m only renting, I’m still interested in saving a little money, and so I opted for one of the more ridiculous options in the Leitz line-up: the Leica M-D. Internally, it is an upgrade from the M9 and similar to (if not the same as) the Typ 262. And it has one major gimmick: There is no LCD screen.

That’s right, this digital camera is an exercise in extreme skeuomorphism. No LCD means no JPEG processing—it’s RAW only. It means no white balance adjustments. It means no auto-ISO (you set it using a dial on the back). The whole experience is meant to emulate film. You set the shutter speed, you set the aperture, and the in-camera meter will let you know if you’re on target. The only other information available is a counter for how many shots you have left on your memory card.

Other than that quirk, it is a standard Leica rangefinder, complete with manual focusing lenses. It feels solid and intuitive. I own two M-mount lenses but for this excursion, I rented a 35mm Summicron-M f/2,m ASPH, not the current version, but the one prior. It’s Leica glass, and—no surprise—it’s fantastic.

 A goat.

A goat.

What’s crazy is that, with no way to review your photos, the camera does force you to be in the moment, which replicates the feeling of shooting film. For me, at least, I practically forgot that I wasn’t actually using my M5, which is an analog camera 

The actual experience of the re-enactment was fun, although I’ll eventually have to write about my many experiences as often the only black person at these kinds of historical sites. But let’s save that for when I have my sheet film developed. Until then, enjoy the rest of these photos and let me know what you think.


station north

Whenever I go to Baltimore, I always mean to photograph some of the street art that is visible from the train station, in the Station North neighborhood. I finally had a chance to do this last month, when I had an hour in town to do a little documentation. Here are the results, let me know what you think.

  “Whoever Died From a Rough Ride—The Whole Damn System”

 “Whoever Died From a Rough Ride—The Whole Damn System”

 “In Memory of Kiki” 

“In Memory of Kiki” 

 A tiger and a ball player.

A tiger and a ball player.

 America upside down. 

America upside down. 

whitney plantation, take one

DSCF2997.jpg

I was in New Orleans recently, on a week-long vacation and general detox from the world. While in town, we walked a lot, ate a lot, and took a lot of photos. Most of those photos are on film, and still need to be developed. But some of them were taken with a digital camera, and I thought I would share a few of those.

DSCF3004.jpg

These come from the Whitney Plantation, an antebellum sugar cane plantation that has been converted to a museum and memorial, both devoted to slavery and the enslaved. Touring the Whitney is a harrowing experience; every aspect of the presentation is meant to emphasize the truth of the matter; that this was a place of harsh, brutal work and subjugation.

Emphasizing that are these figures of enslaved children, placed around the grounds. They are lifelike enough that, if you aren’t paying attention, it seems as if there are actually children. It’s startling, and effective. 

The end of the tour is marked by several memorials. One of those is a memorial to those killed in the 1811 German Coast Uprising, a revolt of enslaved people in what are now St. John the Baptist and St. Charles Parishes in New Orleans. It was the largest slave insurrection in U.S history, and ended when volunteer militia joined with regular soldiers to suppress the assault. Nearly 100 black people were killed in the reprisal. Of those, 18 were executed in trials following the revolt, their heads placed on pikes as a warning to other enslaved people. Those rebels for freedom have a place at the Whitney.

DSCF3014.jpg

There is a lot to do in New Orleans. But if you find yourself there, and you have the time, I think you owe it yourself to visit the Whitney Plantation and experience what they’ve built there. It’s remarkable.

skaters

If you walk by the memorial to the Grand Army of the Republic in Washington D.C on a warm, clear weekend, you'll almost certainly see a few kids on their skateboards, attempting grinds and kickflips, and generally just hanging around. Sometimes, when I have a few minutes to spare, I hang out in the area and take photos, just to see what I might get. 

I'm only sharing four photos in this post, but I took most of a roll of 35mm while observing the skaters. These particular photos capture the most distinctive elements of the scene. The bright sunlight and hard shadows that add additional dynamism to shots of jumping and flipping.

There's also photos of the skaters themselves. Which is to say that, in addition to practice capturing action, the 45 minutes or so I spent in the space were a useful exercise in breaking out of my comfort zone and approaching people for photos and portraits. I have two in this set. The first is of our first skater, triumphant after landing a trick. And our second is of another skater, not seen in any of the above photos, just resting while the others try their luck with the pavement.

To get a larger view of any of the photos here, just give them a click.

hasselblad xpan

Part of the fun if photography is it gives you a different way of seeing the world. Depending on the lens or format or camera, you can experience your surroundings in a profoundly different way. Late last year, I rented a Hasselblad XPan with the aim of capturing my surroundings as a series of panoramas. I was aiming less for sweeping vistas—the usual usecase for the panorama—and more for something cinematic.

I used the camera in two places, primarily: Charlottesville, Virginia—where I live—and Birmingham, Alabama, where I was staying during a weeklong reporting trip. The XPan also saw some use in Washington DC, but not too much.  There's not much to say about it as a camera. It's a bit heavy, but otherwise easy to handle. It's a rangefinder, which means you don't see the frame through the lens and have to use your imagination to get something of a sense of what the final image will look like. The focusing mechanism on the copy I used wasn't fully vertically aligned, which was only a problem for close focusing. 

I shot 8 rolls of film on the camera, but rather than bore you with every photo I took, I figured I would do some curation, giving you the highlights. Let me know what you think in the comments.